Category Archives: Q-S

Silk Stockings

Silk-Stockings-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1955 (RCA) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Cole Porter’s last Broadway show is a charming and sophisticated musical based on the Greta Garbo film Ninotcka. Only Porter could have given that heady cinematic masterpiece the urbane and romantic musical touch that it deserved. Set against an enticing Parisian background that inspired one of the great composer-lyricist’s most sensual love songs, “All of You,” Silk Stockings has a score that also includes the melodic and witty “Paris Loves Lovers,” the smoldering title song, the comedic “Stereophonic Sound” and “It’s a Chemical Reaction, That’s All,” the swinging “Satin and Silk,” and the jazzy “Red Blues.” A strong cast is headed by Hildegarde Neff as Ninotchka, a dour Russian official visiting Paris, and Don Ameche as a slick American talent agent. Gretchen Wyler is a particular delight in a supporting role, displaying plenty of spunk when belting out hilarious Porter lyrics in “Stereophonic Sound.” (Sample: “If Zanuck’s latest picture were the good, old fashioned kind / There’d be no one in front to look at Marilyn’s behind…”) This recording has lots of sensational lyrics that were considered too risqué for the film version of Silk Stockings, yet it’s not perfect; the production numbers sound a bit frenetic, and even the overture is rushed. — Gerard Alessandrini

Silk-Stockings-movie copyFilm Soundtrack, 1957 (MGM/Rhino-Turner) 4 Stars (4 / 5) The treatment of Porter’s score by André Previn and the MGM orchestra is flawless, with musical arrangements and orchestrations far more dazzling than the Broadway originals. Fred Astaire was perfectly cast in Silk Stockings as the male lead, but Cyd Charisse was less well suited to the role of Ninotchka — a moot point when it comes to the soundtrack album, since Charisse’s singing was dubbed by Carol Richards. Janis Paige, Jules Munshin, and Peter Lorre (!) in his only musical are all great fun. Although the movie itself isn’t considered a top MGM musical, the soundtrack is definitely a winner. Previn’s conducting of “The Red Blues” and “Stereophonic Sound” is exciting, the lush orchestrations for Astaire’s vocal and dance in “All of You” are gorgeous, and added to the score are two songs that were written by Porter especially for Astaire; one of them, “Fated to Be Mated,” is a real treat. The only disappointment of this recording is the ridiculous censoring of some lyrics that were considered too explicit for movie audiences of the day. How amazing that an American film released in 1957 couldn’t contain the lines, “If Ava Gardner played Godiva riding on a mare / The people wouldn’t pay a cent to see her in the bare…” — G.A.

Side Show

Side-ShowOriginal Broadway Cast, 1997 (Sony) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, twins who were born joined at the hip and who had minor show business careers that exploited their oddity, Side Show was one of the most overwrought musicals of its era. On Broadway, the exciting staging by Robert Longbottom distracted from all the heavy emoting; here, you have to deal head-on with the exhausting score by Henry Krieger (music) and Bill Russell (lyrics).  The book, by Russell, follows the sisters as they fall in love with a pair of promoters, achieve mainstream celebrity, then realize that they will never find happiness in marriage. It’s a touching story undermined by hysterical dramatics and weepy ballads that harp on the loneliness of carnival freaks. Krieger’s score is melodic, but every number is pitched at finale level, and Russell’s lyrics consistently skirt the ridiculous. The acid test is the number “Tunnel of Love,” in which the twins take a spin on the anonymous amusement park ride along with their boyfriends, hopeful of having sex in the dark. Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner are excellent as Violet and Daisy, screaming their heads off as the score demands. Jeff McCarthy and Hugh Panaro are okay as their men, Norm Lewis offers powerful vocals as a factotum who loves Violet, and Ken Jennings strikes sinister notes as the creepy sideshow boss. — David Barbour

Side by Side by Sondheim

SondheimOriginal London/Broadway Cast, 1976 (RCA) 2 Stars (2 / 5) When Side by Side by Sondheim opened in London, it was warmly received, as half of Sondheim’s shows had not yet been seen in the West End. In New York, where the material was much more familiar, the show still had a healthy Broadway run with the transplanted London company. The cast album reminds us how very fine these songs are; each included number from Sondheim’s pre-1977 shows, from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein) to Pacific Overtures, is an extraordinary piece of work. Yet, with all of the Sondheim cast albums available, there’s little reason to revisit this one. Why, for instance, opt to hear Julia McKenzie and two pianists perform “Losing My Mind” when we can hear Dorothy Collins and the gorgeous Jonathan Tunick orchestrations on the original Broadway cast recording? Millicent Martin has her moments here, particularly in “I Never Do Anything Twice” from the film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, but her renditions of other songs simply can’t compare with recordings of the original performances. David Kernan, who conceived the show, is the third and least interesting member of the cast. — David Wolf

Show Girl

Show-GirlOriginal Broadway Cast, 1961 (Roulette/no CD) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Carol Channing spent many years between Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello, Dolly! touring in a successful nightclub act that was gussied up for Broadway as Show Girl.  Critics and audiences were cool to having a legit stage used for what they saw as an illegit show — little did they know what was to come! — so it didn’t stay around long, but the album is charming. The music, lyrics, and sketches by Charles Gaynor draw some material from the star’s breakthrough 1948 Broadway show Lend an Ear, created by Gaynor. Channing was joined onstage in Show Girl by comedian Jules Munshin, but their sketches didn’t make it to the recording; Munshin is only heard sharing two sly songs, “My Kind of Love” with Channing and “The Girl Who Lived in Montparnasse” with Les Quat’ Jeudis, a French quartet. The rest is all Channing, and she’s wonderful, whether singing the faux Rodgers and Hammerstein number “This Is a Darn Fine Funeral” or enacting the tragic tale of silent film star Cecilia Sisson, whose career was doomed by a hilarious speech defect when the talkies arrived. Channing fans should be aware that Show Girl also exists on video, having been taped for TV way back when. — David Wolf

Simply Heavenly

shOriginal Broadway Cast, 1958 (Columbia/Masterworks Broadway) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Strong reviews kept Simply Heavenly on the boards for about four months in all. The show opened Off-Broadway, later moved to Broadway for a while, then went back to Off-Broadway in a different venue and finished its run there. Sometime in the middle of all that, this album was recorded. The show was also telecast by WNET-Channel 13 for five consecutive evenings in 1959 as part of the station’s “Play of the Week” series. Langston Hughes fashioned the book and lyrics from “Simple Takes a Wife” and other stories he wrote about the life of the character Jess Simple in Harlem of the 1950s. The evocative music is by David Martin, and the jazzy arrangements make good use of electric guitars and throbbing trumpets. Melvin Stewart, who plays Simple, is not the greatest singer, but he’s effective in his three monologues included on the recording. Vocal honors go to Claudia McNeil, who sashays through her 11-o’clock number, “I’m a Good Old Girl,” with humor and style. Partnered by John Bouie, McNeil also rips into “Did You Ever Hear the Blues?” and “When I’m in a Quiet Mood.” Other pleasures include the sweet title song, sung by Marilyn Berry; “Let Me Take You for a Ride,” an amusing duet for Simple and Anna English; and Brownie McGhee’s artful interpretation of “Broken Strings.” — Jeffrey Dunn

Swingtime Canteen

SwingtimeStudio Cast, 1997 (Performing Arts Preservation Assn.) 3 Stars (3 / 5) When producer William Repicci caught a performance of a work in progress by Linda Thorsen Bond that was being staged in Midland, Texas, he was so impressed with the material that he recruited playwright Charles Busch to collaborate with him and Bond in refining the embryonic show. The result of their efforts is an all-female musical comedy set in London during World War II as a company of American singers, headed by an aging movie star, embarks on a U.S.O. tour of the battlefront. The Off-Broadway production of Swingtime Canteen, featuring Alison Fraser and Emily Loesser, had a nine-month run that included replacement stints by Busch — in drag, of course — playing the movie star, and a surviving Andrews sister, Maxene, playing herself. This recording features original cast members plus others — Ruth Williamson, Amy Elizabeth Jones, Penny Ayn Maas, and Kelli Maguire — from subsequent regional productions of the show. The voice of Maxene Andrews opens the recording and sets the scene. Others billed as “guest artists” include Mary Cleere Haran, who blends classic and contemporary styles in “I’m Old Fashioned” (Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer); and Alison Fraser, who delivers “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (Eric Maschwitz-Manning Sherwin) with exquisite simplicity. The album reaches its apex when Emily Loesser caresses “How High the Moon” (Morgan Lewis-Nancy Hamilton) with bluesy inflections. — Charles Wright

Swinging on a Star

SwingingOriginal Broadway Cast, 1996 (After 9) No stars; not recommended. Subtitled “The Johnny Burke Musical,” this show tried to avoid being just another composer tribute revue by placing the songs of lyricist Burke within seven short vignettes of American life, ranging in time from the 1930s through the 1950s: a speakeasy sequence, a radio broadcast, a U.S.O. tour, and so on. Still, the net effect is that of an oldies songfest. Some items work better than others: Alvaleta Guess sings a sassy “Dr. Rhythm”; Lewis Cleale offers a heartfelt “Pennies From Heaven”; and Kathy Fitzgerald, Denise Faye, and Terry Burrell deliver a peppy “Personality.” But a lengthy tribute to the Hope-Crosby-Lamour “road”pictures is thoroughly lame, and overall, the recording comes across as a negligible collection of new performances of songs from vintage films. — David Barbour

Swing!

SwingOriginal Broadway Cast, 1999 (Sony) No stars; not recommended. On Broadway, this revue’s main selling point was Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s ultra-strenuous choreography. What’s left on disc is a collection of mostly familiar swing tunes rendered with no particular distinction. If you feel the need to own another anthology of songs such as “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Blues in the Night,” you might be interested, but be warned: Harold Wheeler’s orchestrations are surprisingly sedate. The recording does provide a showcase for top nightclub chanteuse Ann Hampton Callaway and rising Broadway ingenue Laura Benanti, but the former is heard to much better effect on her solo albums,  and except for an effective rendition of “Cry Me a River,” the latter doesn’t really stand out here. — David Barbour

Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet-SmellOriginal Broadway Cast, 2002 (Sony) 3 Stars (3 / 5) With a book by John Guare, this musical based on the dark film Sweet Smell of Success found few fans during its three-month Broadway run, but the cast recording is very good and only seems to improve upon repeated listening. Composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Craig Carnelia capture the essence of 1952 New York’s dark streets and smoky, neon-lit nightclubs, assisted by  William David Brohn’s orchestrations, liberally peppered with brass licks, and Jeffrey Huard’s musical direction. When Hamlisch drags Carnelia into the Broadway underworld, the results are estimable: “The Column,” “Welcome to the Night,” and “Dirt” are terrific songs. The more jazz and pop-influenced numbers — “One Track Mind,” a solo tour-de-force sung by Jack Noseworthy as the musician Dallas, and “Don’t Know Where You Leave Off,” Noseworthy’s duet with strong-voiced ingenue Kelli O’Hara as his girlfriend — are also great, although some of the score’s more character-driven songs lack the daring of the other material. John Lithgow’s Tony Award-winning performance as the powerful and ruthless gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker is represented only occasionally in song, but his hard-edged acting in what little of Guare’s bitterly humorous book is heard here makes up for the character’s lack of musical material and Lithgow’s vocal shortcomings. As the hungry press agent Sidney Falco, Brian d’Arcy James’ enthusiasm and stamina keep him flying high throughout — particularly in his early showcase number, “At the Fountain.” At 60 minutes in length, the recording is missing a fair amount of musical material; this fractures and muddies some sequences, breaking up the show’s continuity and making it sound more conventional than it was onstage. Still, overall, the album is a fine preservation of an underrated score. — Matthew Murray

Sweet Charity

Sweet-Charity-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1966 (Columbia) 5 Stars (5 / 5) This is a practically flawless recording of a Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields score that ranks as one of the best of the 1960s. Bob Fosse’s adaptation of the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria starred Gwen Verdon in a beguiling, heartfelt performance as dance-hall girl Charity Hope Valentine. All of Verdon’s songs on the album are a pleasure, from the coy “You Should See Yourself” to the ecstatic “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band.” Her rendition of “Where Am I Going?” is heartbreaking; listen to her delivery of the final three words. Verdon finds all the warmth, humor, and vulnerability in Charity, selling the role from a vocal standpoint just as completely as she did with her world-class dancing onstage. The rest of the cast is also terrific: A full-voiced John McMartin sings the title song; Helen Gallagher and Thelma Oliver are equally effective in the big number “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and the much more intimate “Baby, Dream Your Dream”; James Luisi soars in the gorgeous “Too Many Tomorrows”; and the chorus women sex it up in the classic “Big Spender.” The musicians, playing Ralph Burns’ dynamite orchestrations, sound like the ultimate Broadway orchestra under Fred Werner’s musical direction; the overture and “The Rhythm of Life” will get your blood pumping and your feet tapping. The CD includes extended takes of “Rich Man’s Frug” and “I Love to Cry at Weddings,” opening-night interviews with Gallagher, Verdon, book writer Neil Simon, and celebrity guest Ethel Merman, and three great cuts of composer Coleman singing his songs with full accompaniment. — Matthew Murray

Charity-ProwseOriginal London Cast, 1967 (CBS/Sony West End) 4 Stars (4 / 5) This second Sweet Charity is not quite perfect. The accents are a bit wonky. There are a number of internal cuts to the songs, and no “Charity’s Soliloquy” or “I’m the Greatest Individual.” The tempos and Ralph Burns’s gently revised orchestrations aren’t as sharp as on the Broadway recording. But, otherwise, this is a choice take on the material. As Charity, Juliet Prowse lacks the huggable personality and sleeve-worn vulnerability that made Gwen Verdon’s performance a treasure, but she stakes her claim to being the second best exponent of the role on record with gutsy renditions of the songs that squeeze every bit of dramatic juice from the character’s hard-bitten background. For that reason, she’s better in the sharper numbers (“You Should See Yourself,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now”) than the sweeter or darker stuff, but Prowse is a genuine pleasure in any event. So is pretty much everyone else, with Rod McLennan crooning well as Oscar, John Keston providing a rich “Too Many Tomorrows,” and Josephine Blake and Paula Kelly offering spirited backup as Charity’s dance-hall colleagues Nickie and Helene. The OBCR may be irreplaceable, but for a flavorful spin on the property before it started going downhill, this is as good as the runners-up get. — M.M.

Sweet-Charity-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1969 (Decca) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Shirley MacLaine lacks much of Gwen Verdon’s conviction in the title role of Sweet Charity; she finds the character’s basic mood, but fails to offer distinctive vocal renditions of any of her numbers. The new songs written for the score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, “My Personal Property” and “It’s a Nice Face,” are not the equals of those they replaced. The audio quality of many of the tracks is poor, and slipshod editing prevents the soundtrack album from being an accurate record of what’s heard in the film. But some of the performances are excellent: Chita Rivera as a tough but Ioving Nickie, Sammy Davis, Jr. as a thoroughly magnetic “Big Daddy” in “The Rhythm of Life,” and a jovial Stubby Kaye as Herman in “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” John McMartin recreates his definitive Oscar, but he gets only one song here — a rewritten, less-exciting version of the title number. Joseph Gershenson supervises and conducts the music with verve, and, audio quality aside, the orchestra sounds great. — M.M.

Sweet-Charity-Debbie-AllenBroadway Cast, 1986 (EMI) 1 Stars (1 / 5) What a step down, holy cow! You know you’re in trouble from the first seconds of this recording, when the musicians playing Ralph Burns’ orchestrations under Fred Werner’s baton lugubriously bleat out the opening salvos of the once-glorious Sweet Charity overture. Add in Debbie Allen’s self-indulgent performance as Charity, complete with overwrought vocal stylings (“I’m the Bravest Individual” is practically unlistenable), and the result is a misguided performance of the score with almost none of the thrills and charms to be found in other recordings. Only Michael Rupert as Oscar, Bebe Neuwirth as Nickie, and Mark Jacoby as Vittorio Vidal save the album from being a complete botch; Jacoby offers the best “Too Many Tomorrows” on record, and Rupert does a nice job with the film version of the title song. — M.M.

Sweet-Charity-London-StudioStudio Cast, 1995 (JAY, 2CDs) 2 Stars (2 / 5) The big benefit of this recording is its completeness: Every musical number from both the stage and film versions of Sweet Charity can be found here, plus all of the dance music. The downside is that conductor Martin Yates, leading the National Symphony Orchestra, slows down the tempi significantly. Jacqueline Dankworth is vocally the strongest Charity yet recorded, but she’s rather “hard,” failing to tap into the character’s vulnerability and starry-eyed resilience. She leads a mostly fine cast: Gregg Edelman as a smoothly sung Oscar, Clive Rowe as a wild “Big Daddy,” and Josephine Blake and Shezwae Powell as Nickie and Helene. Only David Healey’s Herman is surprisingly weak, making “I Love to Cry at Weddings” a skippable track. — M.M.

Charity-ApplegateBroadway Cast, 2005 (DRG) 2 Stars (2 / 5) An unapologetic star vehicle, Sweet Charity is only as good as its leading lady — who, in even the best of cases, will forever be compared to Gwen Verdon. Christina Applegate, though a hard worker and a trouper (during a nightmarish tryout period, she sustained an injury that almost scuttled the production), is at best okay in the role — even on disc. With a thin voice and not a lot of verve, she can’t do much with the character, and not a single one of her renditions of the songs is memorable for any reason, good or bad. Dennis O’Hare, cast almost dangerously to type as Oscar, displays his usual, hyper-neurotic stage persona here. No one today does this kind of thing better, so his work is enjoyable (and he’s been given the rarely heard “A Good Impression”) but not much different than in any other show. As Nickie and Helene, Janine LaManna and Kyra Da Costa come across very well. So does Paul Schoeffler as Vittorio, providing the closest this recording gets to a killer vocal with an emphatic “Too Many Tomorrows.” Substandard orchestrations by Don Sebesky, who cut down Ralph Burns’s peerless original charts, wrap the package. But with the exception of a funkified version of “The Rhythm of Life” that represents a painful, pitiful reinterpretation of the show-stopping real deal, most of the numbers still charm and amuse. The dazzling bonus tracks feature Cy Coleman and, on “I’m the Bravest Individual,” Dorothy Fields as well. Still, overall, this Sweet Charity is only for completists. —M.M.